Faucets Stem Guide 101

In this blog post, you’ll read:All of a faucet's moving components are found in the stem. You may adjust the water's temperature and the amount of hot and cold water you get from it. There is a stem assembly for each handle.

Table of Contents

What are Faucet Stems?

All of a faucet’s moving components are found in the stem. You may adjust the water’s temperature and the amount of hot and cold water you get. There is a stem assembly for each handle.

Plumbers can use the type of stem system a faucet uses to identify it. They are typically referred to as “stem faucets” because of this. The four most popular varieties are ball, cartridge, disk, and compression stems.

‪What is a faucet stem and why would I need to replace it? From Westlake Ace Hardware

The Difference Between Stem & Cartridge

As anyone who has attempted to do a home repair knows, many different types of faucets require another type of repair. One common type of faucet is the stem faucet, often called a cartridge faucet. Although most people consider these two taps the same, they differ.

A stem faucet is used in two-handle faucets, where one handle controls the flow of cold water, and the other handle maintains the flow of hot water. In contrast, a cartridge faucet is used in faucets with just one handle controlling the flow of hot and cold water.

One advantage of a cartridge faucet is that it can be repaired easily. However, if a cartridge faucet is broken or leaking, it should be replaced, not repaired.

Therefore, remember that not all fixes are equal the next time you have a damaged or leaking faucet. If you have a stem faucet, you must repair it differently than a cartridge faucet. You can quickly fix any faucet with some knowledge and the right tools.

What are Stem Faucets?

Finding out what kind of stem faucet you have is the first step in making a faucet repair. The four common types are as follows:

Compression Valve

How To Install Compression Valve from BrassCraft®

The most common type of faucet in our homes is the seat-and-washer or compression faucet, especially in older homes. This type of faucet has separate controls for hot and cold water (two handles: one for hot and one for cold).

cartridge spec
cartridge spec

The compression valve is the oldest type of valve still in use today. It is simple and inexpensive. A compression valve has a screw stem that goes up and down when turned, and a rubber compression washer is at the bottom of the stem.

The stem inserts a washer into a beveled seat inside the faucet’s base when it is in the “OFF” (closed) position. This stops the flow of water. The reverse happens when the handle is turned to the “ON” (open) position, which allows water to flow out.

One advantage of compression valves is their low cost. However, they are more likely to leak than other valves because the rubber washer can become deformed or cracked after repeated use.

If a compression valve starts to leak, it usually means that the washer needs to be replaced to restore the watertight seal. Fortunately, compression valve faucets are a good choice for most homeowners due to the low cost of parts and the generally simple repair.

Ball Valve

From a functionality standpoint, ball valves are very similar to gate valves. A metal ball with holes or grooves acts as the control element. By aligning these holes or grooves with the inlet, water flow is controlled. The main advantage of a ball valve is that it can be operated relatively easily. Turning the knob attached to the ball allows you to change the water flow or temperature.

Inside of ball valve
Inside the ball valve

However, one downside of ball valves is that they have more moving parts than other valves. These extra parts – springs, o-rings, and washers – can wear out over time and eventually cause leaks. Additionally, mineral buildup and minute particles in your water supply can result in issues inside the faucet, necessitating cleaning or replacing the harmed parts.

Cartridge Valve

Cartridge Valve faucet

Cartridge valves, made of plastic or brass, are essential elements in a wide range of faucets and deliver excellent performance at an economical price. Water flow is directed through a channel network within the cylinder that controls temperature.

Handle valve's cartridge
Handle valve’s cartridge.

There are several advantages to using cartridge valves rather than handle faucets. For instance, cartridge valves can be paired inside two-handled faucets or used in single-handle configurations similar to ball valve faucets.

In addition, cartridge valve faucets are designed to be replaced easily because they contain few parts. Fixing a leaky faucet, it is seen that cartridge valves have many benefits in comparison to ball valves. They are easier to use and control, more reliable, and offer a longer lifespan.

Ceramic Disc Valve

Plumber on the Street by American Standard: Ceramic Disc Valves for Faucets from American Standard

The ceramic disc valve is the most recent type of faucet valve to hit the market. This valve design is made up of two rotating discs that are crafted from ceramic. The discs have channels running through them that align when they are turned. This allows water to flow and gives the user more control over temperature settings. Ceramic disc valves are sturdy, highly reliable, and rarely need repairs.

ceramic disc valve
ceramic disc valve

One of the only disadvantages of ceramic disc valve faucets is the higher price tag. However, these faucets are almost guaranteed not to leak and have a much longer lifespan than other faucets. This makes the initial investment worth it in the long run.

How to Correctly Measure Your Faucet Stem

Steps to ID Your Stem /Cartridge.

Other than the equipment required to extract your stem, you will need:

  • A digital camera or smartphone
  • Calipers (preferred) or a good measuring tape.

By examining the symbols on the tub’s overflow lid or the sink’s underside, you can determine the brand of your shower or sink. The markings, if any, should be photographed.

Please take a photo that includes the entire application (for example, the sink or shower).

Remove the stem from the valve body altogether. If branches are still inside the valve, we can’t identify them. If you don’t know how to do so, call a plumber.

Capturing several photos of the plant’s stem from different angles in good lighting.

Measure the stem from end to end, then record this measurement. The photo below will give you an idea of what to do.

Before measuring your stem, remove the “barrel” (this is common for Standard and Kohler stems). See the photo below.

  • Please count the splines of this handle and record this measurement. Not all stems have splines, so if there is a square broach, measure the diameter (flat end to flat end) and record that information. Use a thread gauge to determine and record the pitch if the stem has threading on the back.
  • To determine the size of your ring, you will need to measure the shank. This is the smooth area underneath where the two ends meet. Please make a note of this number so that you can reference it later. See the photo below for more help.

The most crucial thing to remember is that inches must always be used when measuring the drain size for your water heater. The plumber CANNOT guess measurements with a tape measure held up to the stem. They need precise amounts, ideally in decimal form, recorded in millimeters.

The chart below will assist you in determining the current stem of your faucet.

stem head chart
stem head chart

How do I Replace a Faucet Stem?

A leaky faucet is a yearly occurrence for many Americans. You turn the knob, and it drips and drips, mocking you with its constant noise. What’s even worse is trying to determine how to fix it without making the problem worse or feeling like giving up altogether. However, try these House Logic recommendations for how to fix a valve stem by yourself before you hire a plumber:

Step 1 – Close the faucet and the water supply.

faucet and the water supply
The faucet and the water supply

To deactivate the water in your home, start by finding the main valve near the water meter – typically located outside. Then, rotate the valve clockwise until it doesn’t move any further. Finally, turn on the faucet inside to let out any remaining water in the drain.

Step 2 – Close the drain and turn the handle.

Next, to keep any small parts from falling into the drain as you work, place a rag or some other object over it. Once that’s done, look at the faucet handle and see if there’s a cap in the center. This will cover a screw that holds the handle tight, so use a flathead screwdriver (or channel lock pliers) to pry it off.

Step 3 – Take notes and unplug the screw.

Notes and unplug the screw
Notes and unplug the screw

When it comes time to put your faucet back together, having a documented record of how you disassembled it will be helpful. Depending on your type, there might be more pieces to reassemble than anticipated.

You’ll notice a screw under the cap. Turn the screw counterclockwise with the right type of screwdriver to remove it.

Step 4 – Remove Handle and Disassemble

Remove handle
Remove handle

The handle should be separated from the stem and put aside. Depending on the model of the faucet you’re working on and how old it is, remove the collar from the area surrounding the stem. There could be many different components to remove before the yoke and stem come off in a simple modern system. A knurled fitting on older faucets—notably bathtub faucets—may be removable with a channel lock in a more straightforward method. You might also need a hex wrench on some items with strange shapes.

Step 5 – Trim the stem, then visit the store.

Trim the stem
Trim the stem

To remove the stem, use a valve stem wrench or channel locks. After taking the faucet apart, bring this part to your local hardware or plumbing supply store so you can buy a replacement. It is unlikely that you will know what kind of stem you need before taking the faucet apart, and buying it in advance would be pointless anyways since there is a chance you might have to return it. To ensure accuracy, wait until the old one is in hand.

Find a stem identical to the one you are replacing at the hardware store. If needed, ask for help so that you get the right part. In most cases, a new washer will come with the stem; however, it does not hurt to confirm this before leaving the store. The stem’s recessed end is where the washer is situated.

Step 6 – Examine the washer and change the fittings.

Before installing the new stem, ensure the washer is securely installed at the bottom of the stem. It should be snug in the recess. Proceed by putting the new branch into place and then (if applicable) replace fittings and hexagonal parts while referring to your notes so everything is put back in its proper order; finish up by tightening everything until it’s secure.

Step 7 – Replace Parts and Test

replace the parts
replace the parts

Turn off the main shut-off valve, replace the collar, handle, and screw, and tighten the screw. Turn the primary switch back on and test the faucet. If there is no leak, you’ve found your problem; now it’s time to replace the handle cap.

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